Secret Invasion Episode 1 Review: Ave Maria

The first episode of Marvel's Secret Invasion, "Resurrection", makes it clear that this MCU series is aiming to be darker and grittier than the others.

Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury and Ben Mendelsohn as Talos in Marvel Studios' SECRET INVASION
Photo: Des Willie/Marvel

This review contains spoilers

In Marvel’s Secret Invasion, former SHIELD director Nick Fury is old, jaded, and tired. He doesn’t really want to get involved in the Earth’s struggles anymore, but he wearily accepts that if the show must go on, so must he. If there’s any subtext here, it will not be lost on those who have found themselves falling out of love with the MCU in recent years. For everyone else, including Nick, it’s stiff upper lip time.

The show’s opening episode, “Resurrection”, focuses on Nick returning to Earth from his long vacation aboard the SABER space station. A gang of Skrull refugees he helped in the 1990s have become disillusioned with their outlook in the decades since their first encounter, as the new home planet he and Carol Danvers promised them in 2019’s Captain Marvel never materialized. They’re rightfully pissed about it, but the Skrull Talos (an equally exhausted-looking Ben Mendelsohn) remains Nick’s loyal ally, even in the wake of his wife’s death.

Nick’s quasi-ponderous slouch towards fixing the escalating Skrull problem is just the beginning of his journey in Secret Invasion, which is the first MCU project with Samuel L. Jackson’s aging spy in the lead, and while the actor is as terrific as ever in the role, he definitely looks the way some of us feel. A breakaway faction of aliens may be determined to destabilize our world further and claim it as their own, but looking around at, well, everything, it’s hard not to occasionally root for them.

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“Them” includes Talos’ daughter, G’iah, who is now all grown up and Emilia Clarke from Game of Thrones. She has joined a group of rebel Skrulls, and their leader Gravik (Kingsley Ben-Adir) plans to use subterfuge to start a war between Russia and America to kickstart ultimate Skrull dominance here on Earth, which may as well become their home planet now that it’s clear Nick and Carol aren’t going to deliver another one. These Skrulls have been posing as humans in key geopolitical roles for a while, according to the series’ premise, so they are likely have a pretty strong foothold already, and a well-crafted plan in play.

On that note, we are also introduced to the wonderful Olivia Colman as Sonya Falsworth, a big time MI6 agent and an old ally of Fury’s who is in the midst of trying to stop the villainous Gravik. Her short scene with Fury is fairly delightful and alludes to their long history as fellow players behind the scenes on the world stage, but her character doesn’t have an enormous amount to do yet, and we’ll have to wait and see how important she becomes to the plot later on.

Secret Invasion definitely hasn’t been created with MCU newbies in mind. It opens with Martin Freeman’s former CIA agent Everett K. Ross being unmasked as a Skrull imposter, something that won’t be of particular note and interest if you haven’t seen Captain America: Civil War or the Black Panther movies, and it ends with Cobie Smulders’ Maria Hill dead on the ground – gunned down right in front of a helpless Nick. It’s arguably a shocking climax, but less shocking if Maria wasn’t really on your radar in the first place. To be fair, the MCU hasn’t been massively concerned with building up her character over the years for fans, either. Her death feels like one final(?) mirthless injustice for Smulders’ decade and change tenure in the Marvel movies – bumped off suddenly in a streaming TV show to prove the situation just got real.

The events that take place between Everett’s exposure as a Skrull and Maria’s death are flat and poorly paced, and the messaging – that if you invite refugees into your home they will eventually steal your jobs and become violent – is questionable at best, and the show is clearly wrestling with it on a thematic level. Secret Invasion consistently aims to be a dark and gritty conspiracy thriller like MCU fave Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but it also really struggles to escape the silliness of actors running around in goofy green masks. Say what you will about Captain Marvel, it made the right choice by bringing the often outdated Marvel Comics villains into the MCU as friendly allies. Your mileage may vary, but it’s a bit hard for me to take them seriously as a genuine threat in their natural form against such a dour background.

Since Secret Invasion is intent on telling us that we can trust no one in its marketing, I did question much of what I saw in this series opener, but it didn’t feel like I had much time to get into the mental state where I could truly be unsettled by the surprises this episode had up its sleeve. Right off the bat, the show tells you that the things happening in front of your eyes may not actually be happening in the way you think. It’s a concept that worked well for writer Kyle Bradstreet’s last big show, Mr. Robot, but those twists and turns were earned over time.

Here, it feels like we’re jumping into the current Skrull situation so late in the game, over four years (or 30 odd) after the events of Captain Marvel, that I’m not sure how the show can competently build to a climax in six episodes. It’s clearly set up to be a slow burn process, so maybe it will settle into its groove in the coming weeks as we spend more time with both the new and old MCU characters.

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2.5 out of 5